jazzerpie asked: I don't know where else to ask this and hope it isn't too silly. I'm from a small country with a hugely diverse population. People of African descent make up the majority of the population, and people of East Indian descent are a close second. Third are mixed people, like me. I personally have just about everything BUT Indian blood, but I still celebrate Indian festivals like Holi and Divali and I own East Indian clothing, including a sari. I've been worrying, is that cultural appropriation?
There was a really great tumblr post I saw a while back that noted a distinction between being invited to participate in a cultural practice versus appropriating. In an increasingly globalized world, we share our traditions and practices with one another.
One good question to ask yourself might simply be: Am I being invited to participate in this cultural practice or tradition? Examples off the top of my head might be:
- You are not Jewish but have been invited as a guest to a friend’s home for Shabbat dinner.
- You are not Chinese, but you have been asked to participate in a college fashion show modeling traditional Chinese clothing by the Chinese Canadian designer who is putting on the show
- You are not South Asian, but your partner is and the in-laws have bought you a sari to wear at the wedding
- You are not Muslim but have been invited to go to a mosque with your friend to attend a women’s community forum, she asks you to wear a hijab.
- You are not from the culture that a specific form of culture-based martial arts is from, but your teacher or the organization welcomes you to learn and/or teach that martial art.
- and so on and so forth…
In these situations someone has asked you to participate and there is also an understanding that you will follow their lead. I think there is a distinct difference between that and unilaterally deciding you will participate in someone’s culture, and deciding that you get to decide what that participation will be like.
It’s different than say, deciding to hold a faux religious ceremony at your home because it will add some spice to your life, or choosing to run around wearing clothing from another culture because it looks exotic or hip, or borrowing a sacred ritual because it looks cool.
Cultural appropriation isn’t just disrespectful, it can also be hurtful. One of the most painful parts of cultural appropriation is seeing how the appropriator does not have to face the same consequences as the person they are appropriating from. For example, a Han Chinese person who wears Uyghur clothing may receive compliments for their trendy outfit but they will not have to experience the pressure that Uyghur people experience—pressure to conform and never wear an outfit like that.
I would also argue that even if you are invited to participate in a “cultural practice” it is still important to be conscious of who you are and what that might mean. So, if you are not LGBTQ, and your LGBTQ pal invites you to participate in a Pride event, do not use your experience to mean that “you now understand what it is like to be LGBTQ”, etc.
(I also think there is a distinction between a merchant from that culture being willing to sell you a cultural item, versus actually being invited and welcomed into participating in a cultural practice. This is due to the intersection between capitalism, colonialism, commodification of culture, and basic survival. Just because someone is willing to sell you an item does not mean you are not culturally appropriating. Realistically, there is money to be made off of cultural appropriators.)
People often say that they are wearing a feathered headdress or whatever because they “are showing appreciation for the culture.” But I kind of feel like if that were the case, if they really appreciated the culture, they wouldn’t bristle when people from that culture tell them the are not okay with it. There is obviously a broad spectrum of opinions towards cultural appropriation within any culture (some people are more bothered by it than others.) That’s why I think it is safer and more respectful to wait to be invited to celebrate or participate respectfully alongside friends or communities whose practices are woven into the fabric of their lives and identities. True appreciation of culture includes appreciating its people, and while it is important to respect ever-evolving cultural boundaries, I think most people are open to sharing their experiences with others.
Hope this makes sense. Would love to hear what other people think about this!
i don’t actually know how to pronounce half the words in my vocabulary because i only read and type them
“ I’m starting to understand the real failings of multi-cultural education growing up in K-12 schools. We gave everyone access to the “fun” parts of culture. Let’s sing the dreidel song! Now we understand the Jewish experience. Let’s talk about segregation. Wasn’t that wrong. Aren’t we glad it’s over? Let’s take turns reading parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech. We had access to the easy stuff without having to really examine the hard stuff. And we were giving easy access to things that aren’t “ours” and shouldn’t be “ours.” So you can’t just pick up the “fun” stuff and put it into your party theme or Facebook pictures. I’m using simple terms like fun because that’s how multiculturalism was given to us as children. And while it may have served a purpose at the time, it gave us too much access to claim things that aren’t ours.
I honestly, honestly think that is some of the reasons why the race parties are such a horrible fad on college campuses. They are carrying on what we did in elementary school. Let’s make culture a party! Everyone bring your cultural food and put on a costume! The racism is present and good percentage of the participants are really expressing deep rooted racism. But some truly don’t want to “understand why it’s wrong” when they are re-enacting what we used to do with culture in elementary schools. Culture was supposed to be fun. “I don’t understand why you are mad now? I thought culture was a party!” Party’s over kids. Put down the head-dress. ”
Brian Henry (via theteej)
Aasif Mandvi interviews Fox Business commentator, Todd Wilemon.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Elle.com
As a child, I loved watching my mother get dressed for Mass. She folded and twisted and pinned her ichafu until it sat on her head like a large flower. She wrapped her george—heavy beaded cloth, alive with embroidery, always in bright shades of red or purple or pink—around her waist in two layers. The first, the longer piece, hit her ankles, and the second formed an elegant tier just below her knees. Her sequined blouse caught the light and glittered. Her shoes and handbag always matched. Her lips shone with gloss. As she moved, so did the heady scent of Dior Poison. I loved, too, the way she dressed me in pretty little-girl clothes, lace-edged socks pulled up to my calves, my hair arranged in two puffy bunny-tails. My favorite memory is of a sunny Sunday morning, standing in front of her dressing table, my mother clasping her necklace around my neck, a delicate gold wisp with a fish-shape pendant, the mouth of the fish open as though in delighted surprise.
For her work as a university administrator, my mother also wore color: skirt suits, feminine swingy dresses belted at the waist, medium-high heels. She was stylish, but she was not unusual. Other middle-class Igbo women also invested in gold jewelry, in good shoes, in appearance. They searched for the best tailors to make clothes for them and their children. If they were lucky enough to travel abroad, they shopped mostly for clothes and shoes. They spoke of grooming almost in moral terms. The rare woman who did not appear well dressed and well lotioned was frowned upon, as though her appearance were a character failing. “She doesn’t look like a person,” my mother would say.
As a teenager, I searched her trunks for crochet tops from the 1970s. I took a pair of her old jeans to a seamstress who turned them into a miniskirt. I once wore my brother’s tie, knotted like a man’s, to a party. For my 17th birthday, I designed a halter maxidress, low in the back, the collar lined with plastic pearls. My tailor, a gentle man sitting in his market stall, looked baffled while I explained it to him. My mother did not always approve of these clothing choices, but what mattered to her was that I made an effort. Ours was a relatively privileged life, but to pay attention to appearance—and to look as though one did—was a trait that cut across class in Nigeria.
When I left home to attend university in America, the insistent casualness of dress alarmed me. I was used to a casualness with care—T-shirts ironed crisp, jeans altered for the best fit—but it seemed that these students had rolled out of bed in their pajamas and come straight to class. Summer shorts were so short they seemed like underwear, and how, I wondered, could people wear rubber flip-flops to school?
Still, I realized quickly that some outfits I might have casually worn on a Nigerian university campus would simply be impossible now. I made slight amendments to accommodate my new American life. A lover of dresses and skirts, I began to wear more jeans. I walked more often in America, so I wore fewer high heels, but always made sure my flats were feminine. I refused to wear sneakers outside a gym. Once, an American friend told me, “You’re overdressed.” In my short-sleeve top, cotton trousers, and high wedge sandals, I did see her point, especially for an undergraduate class. But I was not uncomfortable. I felt like myself.
My writing life changed that. Short stories I had been working on for years were finally receiving nice, handwritten rejection notes. This was progress of sorts. Once, at a workshop, I sat with other unpublished writers, silently nursing our hopes and watching the faculty—published writers who seemed to float in their accomplishment. A fellow aspiring writer said of one faculty member, “Look at that dress and makeup! You can’t take her seriously.” I thought the woman looked attractive, and I admired the grace with which she walked in her heels. But I found myself quickly agreeing. Yes, indeed, one could not take this author of three novels seriously, because she wore a pretty dress and two shades of eye shadow.
I had learned a lesson about Western culture: Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance. For serious women writers in particular, it was better not to dress well at all, and if you did, then it was best to pretend that you had not put much thought into it. If you spoke of fashion, it had to be either with apology or with the slightest of sneers. The further your choices were from the mainstream, the better. The only circumstance under which caring about clothes was acceptable was when making a statement, creating an image of some sort to be edgy, eclectic, counterculture. It could not merely be about taking pleasure in clothes.
A good publisher had bought my novel. I was 26 years old. I was eager to be taken seriously. And so began my years of pretense. I hid my high heels. I told myself that orange, flattering to my skin tone, was too loud. That my large earrings were too much. I wore clothes I would ordinarily consider uninteresting, nothing too bright or too fitted or too unusual. I made choices thinking only about this: How should a serious woman writer be? I didn’t want to look as if I tried too hard. I also wanted to look older. Young and female seemed to me a bad combination for being taken seriously.
Once, I brought a pair of high heels to a literary event but left them in my suitcase and wore flats instead. An old friend said, “Wear what you want to; it’s your work that matters.” But he was a man, and I thought that was easy for him to say. Intellectually, I agreed with him. I would have said the same thing to someone else. But it took years before I truly began to believe this.
I am now 36 years old. During my most recent book tour, I wore, for the first time, clothes that made me happy. My favorite outfit was a pair of ankara-print shorts, a damask top, and yellow high-heel shoes. Perhaps it is the confidence that comes with being older. Perhaps it is the good fortune of being published and read seriously, but I no longer pretend not to care about clothes. Because I do care. I love embroidery and texture. I love lace and full skirts and cinched waists. I love black, and I love color. I love heels, and I love flats. I love exquisite detailing. I love shorts and long maxidresses and feminine jackets with puffy sleeves. I love colored trousers. I love shopping. I love my two wonderful tailors in Nigeria, who often give me suggestions and with whom I exchange sketches. I admire well-dressed women and often make a point to tell them so. Just because. I dress now thinking of what I like, what I think fits and flatters, what puts me in a good mood. I feel again myself—an idea that is no less true for being a bit hackneyed.
I like to think of this, a little fancifully, as going back to my roots. I grew up, after all, in a world in which a woman’s seriousness was not incompatible with an interest in appearance; if anything, an interest in appearance was expected of women who wanted to be taken seriously.
My mother made history as the first woman to be registrar of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka; her speeches at senate meetings were famous for their eloquence and brilliance. Now, at 70, she still loves clothes. Our tastes, though, are very different. She wishes I were more conventional. She would like to see me wearing jewelry that matches and long hair weaves. (In her world, better one real-gold set than 20 of what she calls “costume”; in her world, my kinky hair is “untidy.”) Still, I am my mother’s daughter, and I invest in appearance.
"The average prison sentence for men who kill their intimate partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are sentenced, on average, 15 to 17 years. A pair of Maryland cases vividly illustrates this inequality in sentencing. In one case, a judge in Baltimore County, Maryland sentenced Kenneth Peacock to 18 months for killing his unfaithful wife. The very next day, another judge in the same county sentenced Patricia Ann Hawkins to three years in prison for killing her abusive husband. Significantly, the prosecutor in the Peacock case requested a sentence twice as long as the one imposed, while the prosecutor in the Hawkins case requested one-third of the sentence imposed.”
“As many as 90% of the women in prison today  for killing men had been battered by those men.”
~ The Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project
try and tell me sexism isn’t real
Hold the fucking phoneSo about that one song in Chicago